Sierra Leone: Citizens Bemoan Increment in Mobile Tariff
By Stephen V. Lansana
Citizens have on Friday January 13, 2023 urged the government through the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) to cancel the implementation of the floor price in the Finance Act 2022 which increased the cost of internet and off-net calls by over 150 percent.
It could be recalled that the previous Finance Act 2021 also levied over 150% charged per minute for off-net mobile voice calls. This follows the directive from NATCOM to the mobile network operators in Sierra Leone, Orange Mobile Company, Qcell Mobile Company and Africell Mobile Company, to effect the tariff change. This change in tariff made the Mobile Network Operators to remove the Midnight free calls that were mostly utilized by students, and the weekend free calls (cola), and bonuses.
It could also be recalled that on October 21, 2022, the NATCOM enforced the implementation of the floor prices, but due to a public outcry over the 300% increment in data tariff, it was suspended.
A 1.5 GB Qcell data tariff that was sold at Le 9.00 has been increase to NLe 22.50 today (200% increment). 3GB Orange data tariff that was sold for NLe 15.00 is selling today at Le 37.50 (Over 100% increments) today, same for Africell.
Also, Africell and Orange voice call which used to be NLe 6.00 per minutes is now NLe 12. 00. Similarly, a YO and YA bundle which used to be NLe 5.00 for 8minutes voice calls, 100SMS and 850mb weekly for both Africell and Orange are now reduced to 4minutes voice calls, 100sms and 75mb weekly which account for more than 500 percent reduction.
Marian Kargbo, a Student of Fourah Bay College (FBC), University of Sierra Leone explained that the over 200 percent increment in internet tariff will adversely affect her studies thereby preventing her to engage in academic research. She said that she used to watch tutorials on YouTube so as to enhance her understanding of the concepts taught, adding that they have a class WhatsApp platform where they usually hold online discussions, but this increment is going to limit their online discussion.
He explained that floor price is anti-competitive and exploitative, adding that it drives away investors to invest in the market.
Victor Kargbo is pursuing an online course. According to him, the increase is detrimental to the disposable income of citizens in the sense that people can no longer afford the data charges. In addition, most users are sch children and doing research becomes expensive for them.
“It will certainly affect me as my budget on communication will go up significantly and it will prevent me from achieving other business opportunities,” he added, pointing out that “It has far reaching effects to the ordinary man as it will affect communication flows.”
He emphasized: “Floor prices to my knowledge does not suggest that prices cannot rise. In business the business man and investors want returns so that theory does not work. I will suggest that all reviews has to be made within the economic brackets of both individuals and business taking into consideration both the micro and macro economics of the nation.”
According to the previous press release issued by the Director General of NATCOM, Daniel B. Kaitibi, the General Provision of the Finance Act 2022, stipulates a minimum floor price levy at Le 18.00 per Megabyte (MB) of telecommunication data services.
“Consequently, all Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are required to implement the minimum floor price of Le 18.00 (18, 000 old Leones) per megabyte of telecommunication data services on 21st October 2022, while we await the determination of the National Revenue Authority (NRA) on the outstanding charges on telecommunication data services from January to 20th October, 2022,” the Director General said in a statement last year.
“Even though your cooperation is highly solicited in this matter, you are therefore urged to fully comply with the aforesaid directive”.
On Thursday January 12, 2023, Both Joe AbassBangura of Africell and Kamoh Umaru Sheriff of Orange Mobile Network disclosed in 98.1 Radio Democracy’s Good Morning Salone programme that the increment is as a result of the expansion cost and forex, noting that every year when the dollar price is increased, they have reasons to increase the tariff.
They said that they charge subscribers in Leones but the companies pay in Dollars.
Joe Abass Bangura of Africell said that according to NATCOM Act, when there high cost of living and exchange rate increased significantly, it will trigger an increase in tariff. He said that they are not making profit at all.